The group refuses to lay down its arms as it calls for new negotiations
Rabat – The Polisario is “open to any mediation” but refuses to lay down arms as the group faces unprecedented diplomatic momentum in Morocco’s favor. Following the officialization by the UN Security Council of the US proclamation on Western Sahara, the Algerian-backed separatist group announced that it is ready to re-enter into negotiations.
On the same day that the group claimed that Morocco is “pressuring” Spain into recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, the group indicated it is again willing to talk.
The news comes as Polisario leaders face a new reality. The militant group’s military activity in the region has not had the expected effect, with diplomats across the world now changing their views on both Polisario and Western Sahara in light of recent developments. But compounding Polisario’s troubles are reports that Joe Biden is “warmly welcoming” Morocco’s recent diplomatic victories.
Still, the group claims it is in the midst of a 68-day long military offensive against Morocco and it refuses to lay down its arms as a precondition to negotiations. Polisario’s renewed call for negotiations conflicts with its promises to “escalate” the conflict, something the UN is keen to avoid, yet these could simply be more empty statements with few practical implications.
Stand-off in Guerguerat
The Western Sahara issue has undergone a rapid evolution in recent weeks and months. After 29 years of cease-fire in the region, the Polisario aimed to reawaken international interest in the conflict when it decided to block the free movement of people and goods at the Guerguerat border crossing between Morocco and Mauritania.
The border crossing constitutes the only land-route for trade between Morocco and West Africa. By blockading the border, the Polisario hoped for a violent response from Morocco. For weeks, trucks full of produce were blocked from crossing, which caused the prices of vegetables in Mauritania to skyrocket.
Morocco intervened to reopen the border, but the clash that the Polisario had hoped for would not materialize as the UN-monitored Moroccan operation caused no deaths or injuries.
Ever since, international interest in Western Sahara has indeed reawakened, but not in the way the Polisario leadership had hoped.
Dozens of countries have spoken out in support of Morocco’s operation to reinstate the free flow of trade and people on its border with Mauritania.
As Polisario leaders declared an end to the 1991 cease-fire and a resumption of hostilities, Morocco continued to urge for the UN-mediated political process.
Morocco’s diplomatic corps had for years managed to shift the political momentum in Morocco’s favor, with more and more countries supporting the Moroccan Autonomy Plan as the foundation for a lasting peace in the region. The pro-Morocco momentum rapidly accelerated in the weeks and months following Polisario’s Guerguerat gambit.
The shifting momentum was evidenced by the US recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. The new US position created a “new normal” for international diplomacy that was yesterday enshrined into the official archives of the UN Security Council.
“The United States believes that an independent Sahrawi state is not a realistic option for resolving the conflict and that genuine autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty is the only possible solution,” the US document stated.
The Polisario Front now faces a dilemma far more puzzling than the one it grappled with before its miscalculated actions in Guerguerat. It’s military aspirations have proved to be futile and its diplomatic efforts now consist of either issuing combative statements or expressing unfounded hopes for a US reversal of its sovereignty declaration.
While Morocco is rapidly reaching new agreements and establishing a new consensus, Polisario has faced problematic accusations.
A French NGO, the International Alliance for the Defense of Rights and Freedoms, has accused Polisario of recruiting child soldiers in its desperate struggle. American humanitarian Nancy Huff meanwhile continues to document the Polisario leadership’s entrenched culture of exploiting and profiting from unfortunate Sahrawis trapped in the Tindouf camps.
Morocco, the EU, and the UN have for years called for transparency in Tindouf, where Algeria hosts the Polisario group. Despite large quantities of aid being provided by the international community, Polisario has refused to conduct a transparent census among the refugee population it controls, despite UN reports of increasingly desperate conditions.
Claims of fraud and exploitation also come from Nancy Huff’s new book “Danger in the Desert: One Woman’s Quest for Justice and Truth.” Huff spent 15-years in the region and claims that Polisario leadership is actively enriching themselves by selling humanitarian aid in Algerian markets while Sahrawi refugees in the camps go hungry.
Backed into a corner, Polisario appears to have few options left to turn the tide. The group is unlikely to change the current trend by shelling Moroccan defense structures and releasing quarrelsome press releases. The victims, as always, are the vulnerable people trapped in Tindouf, faced with a leadership that has few incentives to find peace.